Gas Station Owners Sue Three Big Oil Companies for Alleged Price Fixing

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Oil companies Shell, Chevron and Saudi Refining are being accused of conspiring to fix gas prices for 23,000 franchise owners nationwide.

Nearly two-dozen gas station owners in California have filed suit in San Francisco federal court and are seeking class-action status.

The station owners say chairmen of the three oil companies met privately nearly every month starting in 1996 to collude on prices. The suit contends they jacked up the wholesale price by 20 to 40 cents a gallon in nearly every state from 1999 to 2001.

A plaintiffs lawyer says gas prices soared for franchise owners at a time when inflation-adjusted crude oil prices had hit their lowest levels since the Great Depression. The suit says dealers were forced to either cut profits or pass on the cost to their customers.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a similar suit last year.